Fears rise over U.S. “hot pursuit” into Pakistan

Nirupama Subramanian

American Admiral Mullen’s visit stokes speculation

ISLAMABAD: Speculation over possible U.S. hot pursuit of Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants hiding in Pakistan rose after an unannounced visit by a top U.S. military official to Islamabad on Saturday for a meeting with the Pakistan Army chief.

Admiral Mike Mullen, the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman, is said to have urged the Pakistani military to act decisively against terrorist safe havens in the tribal areas, the Dawn reported. Admiral Mullen is said to have conveyed Washington’s frustration at the Pakistan government’s apparent unwillingness or inability to end cross-border infiltration by the Taliban into Afghanistan.

He met Pakistan Army Chief Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and Pakistan’s Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee and General Tariq Majeed.

He is reported to have told them the government’s peace deals in the tribal areas had aggravated problems for NATO troops in Afghanistan.

The News said he was accompanied by CIA officials. The U.S. Embassy confirmed the brief visit of Admiral Mullen from Afghanistan but did not provide details. The government was quiet for a whole day on the visit, but Interior Adviser Rehman Malik told journalists on Sunday it was a “routine visit.”

Fears are rising in Pakistan that the U.S. is slowly positioning itself to carry out strikes inside the country. The Dawn said Pakistan’s “security officials” were worried about the U.S. military build-up on the Afghan side of the border and the movement of the American aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln from the Gulf to the Arabian Sea.

A spate of articles in the American media justifying the need for unilateral action by the military in the tribal areas has only fuelled fears.

Won’t allow it: Gilani

The fears have prompted repeated assertions by the Pakistani leadership that it would not allow such strikes. Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani told journalists in Peshawar on Sunday that no country would be allowed to launch strikes in Pakistan, but he also said the activities of a “handful” of people were bringing the country a bad name.

“This is a sovereign country and no can cast a malign eye on it. When I am reassuring you that no one will be allowed to carry out attacks in Pakistan, why are you apprehensive about this? You should focus instead on telling those people who are creating unrest within Pakistan that they are bringing a bad name to the country,” said Mr. Gilani.

NATO missile strikes in the tribal areas between the NWFP and Pakistan-Afghanistan border have become more frequent. According to reports in Pakistani media, NATO forces in Afghanistan are no longer consulting the Pakistan Army before launching such strikes. A Reuters report from the tribal areas said the region was under constant surveillance by unmanned drones.

In response to a protest by the Pakistan Army against an incident in Angoor Ada, South Waziristan, on Friday, in which six troops were wounded by mortar shells fired from the Afghanistan side of the border, NATO said the attack came from militants who were “trying to create a border incident.” On Sunday, Taliban militants handed over the bodies of 17 Frontier Corps personnel they killed in an ambush on a security convoy in Hangu in NWFP.

Admiral Mullen told journalists in Kabul earlier this month the U.S. was prepared to take unilateral military action inside Pakistan on specific intelligence.

Reports in the U.S. media have suggested the action could range from air strikes to landing commandos.

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